Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Favourite (a movie review post)

To say that The Favourite is an odd movie, especially one coming out of Hollywood, and especially one that has Oscar hopes, would be an understatement. It is, in fact, a very odd movie. And extremely brilliant. And, amazingly, historically accurate, at least in the broad strokes. It's historical fiction, so the details have been filled in, but there are amazing bits in the movie that we were surprised to find were actual things that happened. Because, after watching the movie, I think you'd be surprised to find that any of it happened. My initial reaction -- because I didn't know anymore about the history other than that there was a Queen Anne and, vaguely, how she became queen -- was that this was more historical fantasy than historical fiction, so I'm just going to say it again: It is surprisingly historical.

The acting from the three primaries is amazing. I'm not overly familiar with Olivia Colman, but she was great. And she's going to be playing Queen Elizabeth in the new season of The Crown so, now, I'm really looking forward to that. Anne suffered a great many ailments, and Colman made them very believable, including what may have been a stroke at some point during the movie. They never make a thing of it but after a certain point in the film, one side of Anne's face becomes droopy, and I'm so curious as to how they pull that off. Even if it's just a shot of something, the actor still has to perform that way, so it's impressive.

Rachel Weisz was great but, then, she really is always great. She knows how to command a room, and she was the center of virtually every scene she was in. But, then, she is the protagonist. And she knows how to deliver a line. There's one point in particular where she says to Emma Stone's character something along the lines of, "I don't think we're playing the same game." It's brilliant. It's brilliant because Weisz controls that scene even though she could easily have handed that control over to Stone without ever meaning to.

Speaking of Emma Stone, and I like Emma Stone; I think she's great. But, in this, she's surprisingly great. It's one of those moments where you see an actor rise above the level of anything she's done previously, and Stone certainly does that in this movie.

So, yeah, great movie. I actually want to see it again, I think, which is a bit odd for me because, on  the surface, it's not the kind of movie I'm usually interested in. Period pieces and stuff about royalty are not, as they say, my jam. But this movie is intricate and puzzling, and I think there are things I will see on a re-watch that I didn't see the first time through.

Now, having said that, I'm not guaranteeing that you'll like it. It's not your standard fare, and I know a lot of people are put off by things that are even a little bit different, and this one is a lot different. But, you know, if different is your thing, your jam, you should check this out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Roma (a movie review post)

I'm not even sure where to begin talking about this movie. It's one of those movies that seems meaningful, yet it is unclear what that meaning is. It is tragic and, yet, ends full of hope. It's black and white, so it must be important.
Okay, so that last bit is kind of a joke and, yet, not quite. I'm not sure this movie would have worked in color.

What I can say for sure is that Alfonso Cuaron is a writer that I like. At least, he is based on the movies I've seen by him. I loved Gravity (and there is a great in-joke in Roma about Gravity). The Best Director Oscar was very deserved (and I still feel like Sandra Bullock got robbed of Best Actress for that movie (and, no, I didn't see Blue Jasmine, so I don't know if Blanchett deserved the award or not)). Children of Men was also really good. Cuaron writes complex stories that don't always have clear meanings, and I can support that. A story should be engaging and leave the audience thinking. My wife and I have continued to bring Roma up in the weeks since we watched it.

There are really three levels to the movie... Well, there are three levels to the movie that I'm seeing. Maybe there are more, and I'm just missing them.

There's the level of the movie that deals with Cleo and what it's like to be a house servant, one of the lowest people in society. The movie opens with her cleaning up dog shit, which is, of course, a metaphor for her place in society.

Then, there is the family she works for and the lives they live. He's a rich doctor and his wife used to be a biochemist but, of course, she no longer needs to work so doesn't. The contrast between Cleo and the family is, frankly, astounding. The family lives in a huge house which Cleo is constantly cleaning, especially picking up after the children, while Cleo lives in a small room which she shares with the other servant.

All of this against the backdrop of society in general. The movie is set against the drama of a student protest movement that was going on in the early 70s and lead to... well, that would be telling.

On the surface, it seems like a "boring" movie, but it's actually quite fascinating.

Yalitza Aparicio, in her debut, is quite good as Cleo. And Marina de Tavira, as the woman of the household, is good opposite her. The weight of the film rests on the two of them, and they carry it admirably.

It's a good movie. I say that with the full knowledge that the fact that it's in black and white will put many people off of it right from the start, compounded with the fact that it's a personal drama and fairly slow moving most of the time. But for those of you who can sit through it, it's well worth the watch.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Burger Review (a food review post)

As I mentioned last weekend, my daughter has a thing for hamburgers. For her next older brother up, it's pizza but, for her, it's hamburgers. And let me just say, it's a lot easier to find decent burgers in the wild than it is to find decent pizza. Not that there's a lot of decent burgers, but there is much more upward variation. And because it's my daughter who plays softball, we've tried a lot of burger joints, most of which are unrememberable. Just to clarify, we basically never stop at chain joints for burgers. The last chain joint we went to was Burger King (for reasons I can't remember), and that was... that was... hmm... more than three years ago. Maybe more than four years ago. It reminded me why we don't go to there.

Having said that, let me further clarify by saying that I don't consider Five Guys a chain joint. Probably, it is, but in my head it's not. Still, it's been almost a year since we went to Five Guys, and that was because my wife was out of town and the kids wanted to go there. Anyway...

So Five Guys...
We like Five Guys. I mean, if you want a burger on the cheaper side that is still pretty good, Five Guys is the place to go. One thing about burgers is that no good burger is not messy, and Five Guys has nailed the messy part of burger making. You'll have "sandwich hands" for days after eating at Five Guys. Plus, their fries are good. Really good, actually, in comparison to other burger places. Unfortunately, you're getting fries or you're getting their other kind of fries and, for an onion ring guy, that's a downside no matter how good the fries actually are.

Don't believe the hype. Okay, well, actually, if your experience with burgers doesn't extend beyond the big three (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's), you can probably believe the hype. From that standpoint, I can understand why non-Californians get so worked up over In-and-Out (even John Scalzi!). When I first moved here 20 years ago -- 20 years ago! -- and my experience with burgers mostly didn't extend past the burger chains, I thought In-and-Out was great. I was blown away by it the first time I had it, in fact. But that was 20 years ago, and they haven't changed any. They have the worst fries of any burger place I've ever been, and their menu, also, is pretty limited. So, sure, they're probably better (maybe) than BK or McDonald's, but they don't stand up to Five Guys. Oh, and I'd probably go to In-and-Out over ever going to Habit again, so there's that, too, I guess.

Barney's is probably the best burger I've had that was made outside of my own kitchen (other than that one I had in D.C. when I was 15, but I have no way to legitimately grade that against any other burger ever, because that one has achieved Legendary status in my brain (I have a post where I talk about that somewhere, but I'm not going to pull the link up right now (too busy)))). Barney's is a place we stopped on the way back from a softball tournament many years ago, and my daughter immediately fell in love with them. According to her, they are the pinnacle of burger making. I suppose mine come close, or maybe she's just being nice. Who knows? Unfortunately, we don't have one close enough to us to make it a place we can just decide to go to on short notice. Going to Barney's is an event or, actually, gets rolled into some other event.

As far as burger places go, burger places we can just decide to go to if we decide we want burgers (because making burgers at home is a multi-day process, so we have to plan to make burgers at home ahead of time, days ahead of time), Superburger is the best place around. Period. I actually think their burgers are comparable to Barney's, but you'll never get my daughter to agree with that. However, they don't have good fries. They do have onion rings which are pretty tolerable, and they also make yam fries. They don't have anything close to the menu offerings that Barney's has, though, so Barney's has the edge, overall, as a place to go eat. Superburger does make some awesome shakes and, if shakes were a thing I partook of, that would definitely be my choice of places to go. Look, these shakes are better than any shake I've ever had from any ice cream place, which is kind of like if the best burger you could get came from KFC or Taco Bell.

Superburger does have one pretty huge drawback at this point: the cost. [And I'm looking at their menu online, right now, and I'm pretty sure those prices are not accurate to the last time we went there.] When we first started going there, I would say their prices were pretty reasonable, but, now, taking the whole family to Superburger is much more expensive than a family night out at the movies. In other words, I think we went to Superburger, like, twice in all of 2018. Not that we get food out all that often, anyway, but Superburger is not a part of the normal conversation of places to go if we are going to get food out. It just costs too much. It's become a "special occasion" place, which is unfortunate.

There are some other burger places in the area that we've tried that aren't worth mentioning, so I'll go ahead and mention them as places to never ever go, the first of which I'm seeing has actually gone out of business:
Bibi's Burger Bar: Very expensive but with fast food level food. I'm not surprised they had to close their doors.
Phyllis' Giant Burgers: Frozen burger patties at their finest. Seriously, these are the kind of burgers you can make at home by buying frozen patties at the grocery store and picking up some tasteless white bread buns.
Ozzie's Grill: The only reason they stay open is that they are supported by the middle school and high school that they're halfway in between. Comparable to Phyllis' above.

It's possible that there are some restaurants that have better burgers than Superburger and Barney's, but I haven't had them and, when you think of getting a burger, you think of going to a burger place. Of course, when you think of getting a shake, you'd probably think of going to an ice cream shop, but I think of a burger joint.

So there's your burger rundown to go along with last week's review of Habit Burger.